Shaquille O’Neal was a somewhat polarizing figure back in late 1990s and early 2000s. At this point in his career, Shaq’s body had completed its transformation from compact to bulky, his playing style from explosive to brute force. This development created two distinct camps with two distinct opinions on Shaq’s game. One group thought that Shaq wasn’t much of a basketball player in the truest sense of the term, attributing his dominance to physical clout rather than practiced skill. The other thought that Shaq was, in fact, a gifted passer and ball-handler, but his size and strength was his most obvious advantage, an inherent characteristic that is no different from Allen Iverson’s blazing speed or Shawn Kemp’s leaping ability. Seeing the current version of Shaq, it’s hard to imagine that such a schism existed, but I distinctly remembering defending him from the former group’s criticisms throughout high school.
Deadspin somehow got their hands on some footage of a teenage Shaq, and I think it serves as a vivid reminder of how skilled he really and truly was. Sure, the sample size is small. Much of the footage consists of garbled interviews with figures from Shaq’s high school career. But watch the 0:20-0:26 portion, or 0:47-0:55, and tell me that Shaq was nothing but a big lug with no dexterity, pace, or technique. Years of slow decay and painful concession to time have clouded it, but in his prime, Shaq was a force of nature, a revolutionary player, and a frighteningly skilled athlete. I just hope we remember him as such.